The Memoir as Project and Product
Over the last century a new form of autobiographical record-keeping has come to dominate the ways in which life histories are recorded. They are not public but private, focusing on events and responses most writers would have kept to themselves. Their subject is intimate, personal, often embarrassing or shameful experience—the parts of the writers’ lives they had no reason to feel proud of, to describe in print, or make widely accessible. And yet such works, now generally called “memoirs,” have become pervasive and found a receptive audience. What characterizes this form of personal revelation, and why has the taste for it gradually come to dominate autobiographical writing over the last hundred years? Its roots, it can be argued, are embedded in the long-term influence of Rousseau’s Confessions.
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